Monday, July 15, 2024

ARGENTINA | 30-05-2020 09:54

May 23 - May 30: What we learned this week

Noticeable stories from the last seven days in Argentina.



At press time yesterday there was a total of 15,419 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 520 deaths, as compared to 10,649 cases and 433 deaths the previous Friday. Last Saturday President Alberto Fernández, as widely expected, extended quarantine for a fortnight until June 7 (when it will total 80 days – “quarantine will last as long as it has to,” was how the president put it). The main innovations were restricting shopping in this city to essentials, thus closing down up to 25,000 shops, and obliging Greater Buenos Aires commuters to renew their travel permits. On Sunday Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof ordered the isolation of Villa Azul after over 50 cases of coronavirus contagion were reported there, ringing the shantytown with 1,000 policemen, while a similar crackdown loomed for the far more populous Villa Itatí (an estimated 70,000 people crammed into an area housing only some 15,000 a few years ago) after over 70 cases were reported. As the week progressed the number of confirmed cases in Greater Buenos Aires villas grew into the hundreds. Later in the week Kicillof’s initiative was questioned by both the national government and City Hall.


Health Minister Ginés González García entered Otamendi Hospital on Wednesday, not for coronavirus tests as originally suspected but because a numb left arm led him to fear a prelude to heart trouble. But the problem ended up being located in his head – a long-standing subdural haematoma – and he was discharged the next day.


With no D-day last week there were no decisive developments on the debt front. On Tuesday the top credit rating agencies Standard & Poor’s and Fitch officially downgraded the Argentine bonds going unpaid on May 22 to “default” status (“restricted default” in the latter case) but nobody saw this as any final word. On Monday Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof extended the deadline for accepting his bond swap offer to creditors covering over US$7 billion of loans to June 5. Throughout the week Argentina and its creditors were reported to be closing the distance via offers and counter-offers without bringing an agreement any nearer. Country risk responded positively to these narrowing differences, closing the week yesterday at 2,638 points, almost 200 points down from the previous Friday’s close of 2,837. Money markets were also calm. With the so-called “blue” dollar (rapidly becoming the only parallel exchange rate with the Central Bank closing the door on hitherto legal bond and share transaction alternatives) down to 115 pesos yesterday from 126 pesos the previous Friday, the official exchange rate could even inch downwards to 70.25 pesos (Banco Nación).          


President Alberto Fernández and Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof on Tuesday announced 224 public works projects in 40 Greater Buenos Aires municipalities housing over 13 million people. The plan will command an investment of just under 20 billion pesos and create over 8,700 jobs with strict gender equality. The works will include 12 new health units for prisons. President Fernandez said that the pandemic had served to highlight inequalities and that Argentina as a society should be ashamed of the overcrowded conditions in which almost a third of its population lives. Kicillof added that the plan would give the economy a motor it now lacks and defended a strict quarantine, arguing that all countries had economic problems regardless and had been unable to function normally – the virus was to blame for the economic crisis, not the responses to it. There was no alternative to public investment because private was halted by the uncertainty, he insisted. 


The 210th anniversary of Argentine nationhood last Monday was in stark contrast to the jamboree bicentenary in 2010 bringing out literally millions of people onto the streets. With quarantine renewed the previous day, virtually the only public commemoration was a Te Deum mass in an almost empty cathedral with no more than a dozen people where Buenos Aires Cardinal-Archbishop Mario Poli (accompanied by prelates of other faiths) called for solidarity in a message followed by President Alberto Fernández among others. Nevertheless, the public holiday also included at least two unauthorised protest motorcades –in Tigre against the economic restrictions of quarantine and in Córdoba organised by doctors against the indictment of two of their colleagues for 11 deaths in a retirement home and drawing some 1,500 cars.


Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the abduction of former military president Pedro Aramburu by Montonero guerrillas, assassinated by his captors three days later in a slaying which they presented as trial and execution.


Federal prosecutor Jorge Di Lello yesterday indicted ex-president Mauricio Macri among others in calling for a judicial investigation of the illegal espionage charges presented by AFI intelligence trustee Cristina Caamaño on Tuesday. Also indicted are former AFI chief Gustavo Arribas and his second-in-command Silvia Majdalani. Caamaño’s charges of over 80 victims of illegal espionage by the agency during the 2015-2019 Macri presidency were taken up in Congress the next day by the Bicameral Intelligence Committee. The list contains the names of politicians (including Macri supporters), journalists, officials, businessmen, ambassadors, trade unionists, artists and military and police officers. The case falls under federal judge Marcelo Martínez de Giorgi.


Due to quarantine restrictions, last month’s property sales in this city were a record low seven (mostly bedsitters), according to the local College of Notaries, registering a plunge of 99.7 percent by comparison with April last year and thus sharply accelerating a negative trend now in its 23rd month – an acute crisis for the real estate sector. The first third of this year thus closed with a 54.6 percent slump in registered property sales and a 56.5 percent plunge in overall activities for notaries.


Uruguayan politician Carlos Enciso, 52, currently a deputy for President Luis Lacalle Pou’s National Party and mayor of the central department of Florida from 2010 until last year, was confirmed as the new Uruguayan ambassador to Argentina following Senate approval in Montevideo last Tuesday. His is one of the few political appointments since President Lacalle Pou has expressed a general preference for career diplomats. In Argentina Enciso has friends in both Peronist and Radical circles, mostly the former.


Eight people were arrested on Monday afternoon when an orthodox Jewish wedding ceremony with over 150 guests in the Once neighbourhood was broken up by police who had been alerted by video coverage of similar weddings with over 100 guests in the same neighbourhood on May 20 and 24. Their violation of quarantine, repudiated by other orthodox Jewish sectors, carries prison sentences ranging from a fortnight to two years.


Defying quarantine but respecting social distance, dozens of women sporting their emblematic green headscarves and displaying posters reading "¡Aborto Legal Ya! ("Legalise abortion now")" marked the 15th anniversary of the first abortion reform bill outside Congress on Thursday. President Alberto Fernández had promised rapid treatment of a reform bill when opening parliamentary sessions for the year on March 1 but coronavirus obliged him to order quarantine later that month.


Perhaps Argentina’s most notorious femicide – La Plata dentist Ricardo Barreda who shot dead his wife, sister-in-law and two daughters back in 1992 on the grounds that they made him feel humiliated – died in a Rosario geriatric hospital on Monday at the age of 83.


Retired Argentine boxer Walter Masseroni, 56, has challenged former world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson (who turns 54 next month) to a bout in the ring. Masseroni is so confident that Tyson will accept the challenge that he has printed posters advertising the event, the general pandemic ban on sporting events notwithstanding.



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